Paris, november 2021.

Checking my blogs I realise 5 years have passed since my last visit to Paris so time really flies. The last two years we did not travel a lot, so when my husband was asked to speak at a conference in Paris, we immediately jumped to the occasion to make a trip out of it. We got a room at the Westin Paris Vendôme hotel, smack in the middle of the first arrondissement, around the corner of the Louvre. We drove by car, and parked underground at Indigo Place de la Concorde, a five minute walk from the hotel. If you book you parking in advance online via OpnGo you get a 30% reduction, really worthwhile! With the discount the parking fee was cheaper than in Amsterdam.

I decided to visit some art exhibitions and stroll around the city with my camera, since the weather looked promising. We arrived around 3 PM (without any traffic jams!) and first checked in. The hotel is really nice but I would never pay for it myself, you mainly pay for the location, the room and its amenities do not justify the expensive room rates. Since it was still early day we decided to walk towards the Notre Dame cathedral we hadn’t seen since its roof was destroyed in a fire in 2019. We walked through the Jardin de Tuileries, past an ugly Christmas market, via the Louvre, crossed the Seine via the Pont des Arts where street musicians were packing up, passed the little stalls on the left bank which had also closed down, crossed the Seine again on the Pont Neuf, and were halted by a heavily armed police man at the end of Place Dauphine. Just behind this square is the Palace of Justice where our fellow-countryman Salah Abdeslam is standing trial for his part in the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015. The whole area was completely guarded off by numerous heavely armed police men. We had to walk around on the right bank of the Seine. When we arrived at Sainte Chapelle it was already closed so we continued to the Notre Dame which can now only be seen from the outside. We had a warm drink at the very Parisian Brasserie Les Deux Palais before walking over to the Hotel de Ville metro station, where we bought a booklet of ten tickets (a single ticket costs 1,9 euro, a booklet of 10 tickets just 16,90). These paper tickets will be phased out, but are still in use. We took the metro line 1 in the direction of La Defense and got off at Les Sablons. From there it is a 12 min. walk to the Fondation Louis Vuitton where the Morozov collection is on show.

The building by Frank Gehry dooms up like a large ship with silver sails. And although I already saw many of the works at the Pushkin museum in Moscow in 2017, I was still impressed with the vast collection put together by the brothers Mikhail and Ivan Morozov in the late 19th and early 20th century. The first room features portraits of the Morozov family and friends by some of the leading Russian artists of their time. The impressive list of stunning works by Cézanne, Monet, Van Gogh, Matisse, Derain, Renoir, Gaugain, Picasso, Rodin , Claudel and even Munch are shown in dialogue with Russian paintings of the same period. An unusual work by Van Gogh made when he was in the asylum in Saint-Rémy hangs beautifully lighted in a separate room.

This exhibition is a real good reason to visit Frank Gehry’s art temple in Paris. We ended the day with dinner at Le Sequoia, opposite the metro stop Les Sablons, a typical local French restaurant. De dinner was price quality wise really good. To my surprise they even had some vegetarian choices on the menu.

The next morning I made a walk around the first arrondissement enjoying the sunny weather. I walked over to the Richelieu library, one of the sites of the Bibliothèque National de Paris. The national library was originally founded by Charles V in 1368 as Bibliothèque du Roi at the Palais du Louvre. It became a large collection under the reign of Louis XI who moved the collection to its royal residences in Amboise, Blois and Fountainebleau. Louis XII merged the Blois library into the Bibliothèque du Roi and enriched it with, amongst others, the Gruuthuse collection from Bruges, an impressive collection of handwritten manuscripts. It later moved to Paris, to Rue de la Harpe in 1604 and to Rue Vivienne in 1666. It opened to the public in 1692. The library’s collection swelled to over 300,000 volumes when private collections were seized during the French revolution and became a national property as the “Bibliothèque Nationale”. In 1868, the library was relocated to Rue de Richelieu in buildings constructed by Henri Labrouste. The Labrouste Reading Room is a real gem. As a visitor you can only enter the reading room for a few meters but it is enough to get a good view and take some pictures. On the third floor you can visit the Rondel Gallery, the rotunda of Performing Arts, the glass bridge and the manuscripts room, the visit is free and there are guided visits on Saturdays. It is close to the Palais Royal so I also made a stroll through the park of the Palais Royal.

I had booked a time slot at the Musée André Jacquemart to see the Botticelli exhibition and walked over to Boulevard Haussman from the Palais Royal passing the Opera Garnier. This part of Paris is mainly designed by Georges-Eugène Haussman who was the prefect of the Seine under Napoleon III. Napoleon ordered Haussman to modernize the city. Many call Haussman an urbanist while in fact he studied law and was also a talented musician. Haussman set up a plan to sanitise, modernise and embellish Paris. Haussman tore down hundreds of buildings, installed a new sewage system, brought clean water to the city, laid out broad avenues and parks and is largely responsible for how Paris on the right bank of the river Seine looks today.

The Botticelli exhibition, ‘Artist and designer’ mainly focuses on Botticelli as head of a busy workshop and studio as a laboratory of ideas. On show are some 40 major works with the exception of his most famous works Primavera and The Birth of Venus. On show are works from as early as 1470 till the late 1490’s showing his personal stylistic development over this period. Impressive works are Madonna with child, La Belle Simonetta, Venus Pudica, The Crucifix and Judith holding the head of Holofernes. Intriguing are the Dante’s drawings, the portraits of the Medicis, tapestry, embroidery and his lesser known religious paintings. He was an artist with a whole individual style at his time which does not feel at all outdated today. The only drawback was that the exhibition was terribly crowded. The museum has small exhibition rooms, and you have to elbow your way to the paintings. Get your tickets well in advance since the exhibition is very popular and bring your corona pass (pass sanitaire) to enter the museum.

I took the metro back to the hotel to refresh myself, before walking to the newly refurbished Bourse de Commerce that now houses the Pinault Collection of contemporary art. Francois Pinault, a French billionaire asked Japanese architect Tadao Ando to renovate this 18th century grain exchange. Ando installed a 108-foot-diameter concrete cylinder inside the central rotunda, creating a core display area while retaining the framework of the original rotunda. They restored the 19th-century frescoes on the dome. At the entrance you are greeted by Ryan Gander’s in situ stuttering mouse-in-the-wall.

At the center of the museum’s initial exhibition stands a wax replica of the 16th-century Giambologna statue “The Abduction of the Sabine Women,” as a giant candle surrounded by other wax sculptures that are lighted every day and slowly melt away, a work by Urs Fischer. Around the dome in the display cases you find work by Bertrand Lavier criticising consumerism. One large gallery on the ground flour is dedicated to the black American artist David Hammons. Other galleries feature works by Miriam Cahn, Peter Doig, Kerry James Marshall and Martin Kippenberger and our own Belgian artist Tuymans. I really liked the sculptures by Tatiana Trouvé that like guardians are found all along the route.

I hopped on the metro to the Champs Elysées but found the Christmas decorations and lights a bit disappointing this year. I ended the day in style with a tea and a creme brulée in the hotel’s Tuileries bar.

Our last half day was spent visiting the Opera Palais Garnier . Although I have been in Paris several times, I had never visited the inside of the 19th century opera building. It was a real eye opener. It looks impressive on the outside but is really sumptuous on the inside. Upon entering you find yourself at the Grand Escalier with its magnificent thirty-meter-high vault. Built of marble of various colours, it is home to the double staircase leading to the foyers and the various floors of the theatre. In the tradition of Italian theatre, the horseshoe-shaped “French” auditorium was designed for the audience to see and to be seen. The ceiling painted by Marc Chagall and commissioned by the Minister of Culture André Malraux was inaugurated on September 23, 1964 and under it hangs the 8-ton bronze and crystal chandelier with its 340 lights.

What impressed me most was the Grand Foyer with a ceiling painted by Paul Baudry (1828-1886) featuring themes from the history of music. The vault of the Avant-Foyer is covered with mosaics of shimmering colours on a gold background. The view of the Grand Staircase from here is spectacular. There is also a library and a painting gallery.

It was past lunchtime already so we walked in the direction of Rue Saint Augustin, Rue Sainte Anne and Rue des Petits Champs, where you find many small restaurants, most of them Asian style restaurants. We chose Pho 11, a small Vietnamese restaurant, and ordered a Pho with duck. The food is good without being exceptional. I showed my husband the Richelieu library and the Palais Royal.

We then walked towards Les Halles to buy some Choux a la creme from Odette. We bought a box of six to try at home. They are good but not exceptional.We had fun trying the different tastes. I still love the choux my mother makes much better! We ended our day with a tea and a lemon pastry at Les Artizans in Rue Montorgueil. The verveine tea was made with full leaves and the pastries by Mathieu Mandard were divine. A good way to end our trip to Paris.

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